It’s a time honored adage in professional sports that the team who’s hottest and healthiest entering the playoffs is the one who has the best chance of going all the way.
Well, this isn’t quite the playoffs just yet, however, every game down the stretch has a playoff feel to it and the Islanders would be wise to use these games to get as healthy as possible and to get on a roll. In Thursday night’s 4-1 loss to the Bruins at TD Garden — their first defeat at the hands of Boston this season — the Islanders suffered a bad bounce early, couldn’t find their legs throughout the first period and were eventually done in by their lack of effort.
However, there was a bright spot and that was Travis Zajac scoring his first goal since joining the Islanders just over a week ago in advance of the NHL’s annual Trade Deadline; which came to a close this past Monday afternoon.
And with The Deadline in the Isles’ rearview mirror, the team’s top priorities should be: locking up a playoff berth (they’re 10 points clear of the 5th place Rangers with 13 games to play); securing the highest possible seed (the Top seed in the MassMutual Division is still well within reach); getting healthy (several players are a bit banged up — as almost every hockey player is at this time of year); and fully integrating their new players so that it’s all systems go by the time the playoffs begin.
Of course, that’s all easier said than done.
In four games since acquiring Zajac and Kyle Palmieri from the Devils, the Boys from Long Island have looked out of sorts while attempting to fit their new players into the lineup. Now, it’s normal for a team to struggle with its chemistry immediately after acquiring new players. But, it’s the lack of overall effort from the entire team that is quite perplexing. That’s not to say that the Isles are being blown off the ice; they are 2-2-0 since the trade. However, this needs to be corrected and soon.
Perhaps this is just a brief lull in an otherwise excellent season? The next several games will give us a clearer picture.
As for their game against the Bruins…
Both teams started the game with their fourth-lines on the ice in an attempt to generate energy and that battle was firmly won by Boston; which is surprising for anybody who has watched the Isles’ Identity Line over the years.
Nevertheless, a game is not won or lost on the first shift.
Then, 1:49 into the opening period, Brad Marchand had a shot deflect off his back and the puck knuckled past Semyon Varlamov and into the Isles net before hitting the camera in the back of the net and bounding back out onto the ice as play briefly continued.
A quick whistle at the other end of the ice led to a video review and the Bruins being awarded the goal — 1-0 Boston.
The Nassaumen then struggled to find their footing and took two quick penalties minutes later as Scott Mayfield and Josh Bailey each took a turn in the penalty box. And by the time the Isles got their own crack at a power-play, courtesy of a Charlie Coyle tripping penalty at 13:45 of the first period, the Bruins were well on their way to registering 23-shots on goal in the period; all while the Islanders put up a meger seven.
After the game, Head Coach Barry Trotz was clearly unhappy with how his team started: “Unacceptable…We got some guys that didn’t want to accept the challenge.”
The Boys from Long Island’s power-play fizzled and a few moments later, Brock Nelson was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking and on the ensuing four-minute power-play, Boston’s Craig Smith scored to put the visitors in a 2-0 hole.
On to the second period, which has been a problem all season-long for the Islanders and yet, in a reversal of fortunes, they came out flying.
Just 2:56 into the middle period, Travis Zajac finished off a nice passing play by Mathew Barzal and netted his first goal with the Islanders. At that point, the Isles were only down 2-1 and the game was well within reach. However, while the Boys from Long Island played better during the middle period, they didn’t do enough to close the gap.
And that’s where the score remained when the third period opened.
Early in the third, Jordan Eberle threaded the needle with a beauty of a pass on an odd-man rush with Barzal, only for Barzal to shoot the puck wide. The Bruins and Taylor Hall took the puck the other way and Hall scored on a partial break by putting the puck through Varlamov’s five-hole for the 3-1 Boston lead 1:52 into the final period.
A two-goal deficit with roughly 18-minutes to play is not insurmountable, but the wind was clearly taken out of the Islanders’ sail and they went down without much of a fight the rest of the way. Marchand put the finishing touches on the game with an empty-net goal at the 18:24 mark of the period to make the final score 4-1 Boston.
In all, it wasn’t the Isles night and outside of Varlamov making 41-saves and Zajac getting his first goal with the team, there wasn’t much that went right for the visitors. And to compound things, Josh Bailey was injured during the second period and left the game. After the game Head Coach Barry Trotz said they did not yet have an update on Bailey.
Keeping that in mind, you will likely see a different lineup Friday night in the second-half of the back-to-back set. One change is likely to be Ilya Sorokin coming in for Varlamov. Varlamov wasn’t the problem, but it’s good to get him some rest when possible. The other changes could include Michael Dal Colle, Ross Johnston, Leo Komarov or Braydon Coburn being inserted into the lineup.
We’ll have some answers in less than 24-hours so stay tuned.
The Isles went 0-for-3 on the power-play to bring their season tally to 19-for-107…Travis Zajac’s goal was his first as a member of the Islanders…This was the Isles first loss in six-games to the Bruins this season…Semyon Varlamov made 41-saves…The Isles were 4-for-5 on the penalty-kill…Josh Bailey left the game mid-way through the second period and did not return.
Friday April 16th Islanders at Bruins at TD Garden at 7pm(EST).